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Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl Who Couldn't Ask for Help

Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl Who Couldn't Ask for Help

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Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl Who Couldn't Ask for Help

4/5 (2 évaluations)
316 pages
4 heures
Sep 24, 2019


The first new book from beloved therapist and writer Torey Hayden in almost fifteen years—an inspiring, uplifting tale of a troubled child and the remarkable woman who made a difference.

In a forgotten corner of Wales, a young girl languishes in a home for troubled children. Abandoned by her parents because of her violent streak, Jessie—at the age of ten—is at risk of becoming just another lost soul in the foster system.

Precocious and bold, Jessie is convinced she is possessed by the devil and utterly unprepared for the arrival of therapist Torey Hayden. Armed with patience, compassion, and unconditional love, Hayden begins working with Jessie once a week. But when Jessie makes a stunning accusation against one of Hayden’s colleagues – a man Hayden implicitly trusts – Hayden’s work doubles: now she must not only get to the root of Jessie’s troubles, but also find out if what the girl alleges is true.

A moving, compelling, and inspiring account, Lost Child is a powerful testament once again of Torey Hayden’s extraordinary ability to reach children who many have given up on—and a reminder of how patience and love can ultimately prevail.

Sep 24, 2019

À propos de l'auteur

Torey Hayden is an educational psychologist and a special education teacher who, since 1979, has chronicled her struggles in the classroom in a succession of bestselling books. She currently lives and writes in North Wales. Find her on MySpace at www.myspace.com/torey_hayden

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Lost Child - Torey Hayden



Title Page

Part I

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Part II

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty


About the Author


Also by Torey Hayden


About the Publisher

Part I

Chapter One

In March I saw the first skylark. Not the bird, of course. On our high, windswept moors, it was much too early in the year for skylarks. This one had been drawn on a sheet of A4 paper, the ordinary kind you put in printers, and at first glance I missed the bird altogether. Meleri reached across to point to the very bottom right-hand corner. Putting on my reading glasses, I held the paper up to the car window to see a drawing that was not much bigger than my thumbnail. The weather was being typically Welsh that day, heavily overcast and ‘mizzling’ – too heavy to be mist, too light to be drizzle – making the back seat of the car as dim as a disused chapel. On the page, the tiny bird crouched midst blades of prickly looking grass, its eyes bright, its expression shrewd, as if it knew something I didn’t. Its plumage was highly coloured, more that of a macaw than a skylark. Minuscule musical notes rose up along the right-hand edge of the paper to indicate its song.

‘Don’t you think that shows talent?’ Meleri asked. ‘She’s only nine.’

‘What’s her name again?’

‘Jessie. Jessie Williams.’

The tiny details of the drawing, so precise and intricate, mesmerized me.

Meleri opened the elasticated portfolio file resting on her knee and took out three more drawings and handed them to me. Two were done in felt-tip pen like the one I already held. The other was in pencil, the lines so pale and spidery that I could hardly make them out in the dim light. The same small bird locked eyes with me in each of them.

‘I like that she does them,’ Meleri said. ‘They seem cheerful to me. As if Jessie still has hope.’

I had met Meleri Thomas the first time a number of years earlier. It was in Cardiff, in the green room of a TV studio for the Welsh-speaking channel S4C, where we were both appearing on the morning breakfast show. I was there to promote one of my books, and she was taking part in a panel discussion about children’s rights. Meleri caught my attention immediately, because chances are she would have caught anyone’s attention. Her features were bold, attractive, almost Italianate – large dark eyes and long, dark hair – and she was dressed in a figure-hugging knit dress in a startling shade of emerald green. These aspects would have been striking enough on their own, had there not also been the fact that Meleri looked remarkably similar to popular TV chef Nigella Lawson. For just a moment I thought that’s who it was and was curious why she would appear on a Welsh-speaking panel about children’s rights.

Green rooms always have an edgy atmosphere. Almost everyone waiting to go before the television cameras feels anxious for one reason or another, and as a consequence, even if you don’t know each other, it’s common for people sitting together in a green room to make small talk as a distraction from nerves. This was challenging for me on this particular occasion, because everyone was speaking Welsh. I had only newly learned the language and was not quite fluent. More to the point, my American tongue still did not always take kindly to Welsh pronunciations. Subsequently, my only real memory of that occasion was the clanger I dropped. The weather always being a good topic for small talk, I’d thought to remark on how much I was enjoying the crisp frosty days we were having. In the unanticipated hilarity that followed, I discovered the Welsh word for ‘frost’ is pronounced remarkably similarly to the Welsh word for ‘sex’.

When Meleri and I met again, it was at a small conference for social workers and other youth support workers, once again in Cardiff. I recognized her flowing black hair and glamorous clothes immediately. We laughed at the memory of my embarrassing blooper, and I was forced to admit that my Welsh was even worse these days than it had been then, as I’d moved to a new area where the dialect was much different. While I still read the language reasonably well, I’d pretty much stopped speaking it.

‘That’s my area,’ Meleri said, as I was explaining this. ‘That’s where I live!’ And then, ‘Oh, if you’re so close, please, you must come out to Glan Morfa. I have so many children I’d love you to see.’

It took two more years before I found myself being driven along a largely urbanized beachfront that segued from one coastal town to the next on the way to the children’s group home, Glan Morfa.

The whole area was run down, from the derelict industrial port built to serve now-disused quarries to the dreary pleasure beach with its broken roller coaster and shuttered kiosks. Then came the endless miles of holiday parks, row after row of faded caravans tinged with rust, all empty in the off season.

The car turned down a long single lane between two of these caravan parks. The road was badly potholed, so we slowed to a crawl. Indeed, it was such a bumpy ride we couldn’t help but laugh in the back seat because we were so jostled, but then through a small grove of scraggy trees deformed by the sea wind, a long, low building appeared. Its stripped back, brutalist architecture hinted at a 1960s construction date. The white paint around the windows was peeling. The pebbledash walls were the colour of porridge. Meleri sensed my dismay at such bleak surroundings and said, ‘We’re hoping the council can afford to paint this year, although I think they are going to spend the money on repairing the road.’

Inside, however, was a different world. The entrance area was well lit and painted in white and bright gradations of turquoise. There were posters up and photographs on a bulletin board of group activities and days out. At the far end was a glassed-in office with a calendar, individual schedules and numerous photos of the children on the walls. I was introduced to Joseph and Enir, the staff in charge.

As I entered the office area, Enir flipped on the electric kettle, took out four mugs and measured instant coffee into them. ‘You take it white?’ she asked, and added milk before I answered. Joseph opened a round purple tin to reveal an assortment of biscuits. ‘You’re in luck,’ he said cheerfully. ‘There are still some Penguin bars left.’ He handed one to me.

We spent a very pleasant fifteen minutes getting acquainted. Enir was twenty-eight. She’d been working at the group home for four years, liked the shift work because it fitted in well with her young daughter’s schedule at school and was looking forward to her holiday in Majorca in the summer. Joseph looked to be in his early forties. He had been working at Glan Morfa for almost ten years, longer than anyone else, and was now the day manager. He liked the work, he said. He realized for most people it was not a career, but for him it was. He enjoyed ‘being on the front line’, as he put it, where he could help the children coming to Glan Morfa grow and change while they were there. He tried to give them a sense of belonging, a sense of being cared for, and this seemed to have happened, as several of the ‘graduates’ – the children who had reached eighteen and moved out of the Social Services system – still returned regularly to visit Joseph.

After we’d shared coffee, Meleri and Joseph took me down a hallway adjacent to the office and into a small room crammed with furniture. Two brown armchairs and two small filing cabinets were against one wall, and a well-worn beige sofa was against the opposite one. In the middle, with just barely enough room to get around it, was a sturdy wooden table with a white-patterned Formica top and four orange plastic chairs pushed up to it.

‘It isn’t grand,’ Joseph said. His tone wasn’t apologetic, just matter of fact. ‘But this is our therapy room. Or should I say therapy room in quotes, because it’s also the conference room, the interview room, the I-need-to-get-this-kid-out-of-the-chaos-and-talk-to-him room and, as you can see, the store room.’

Meleri had gone to get Jessie, so I chose a chair on the right-hand side of the table and sat down.

A few minutes later, the door opened and Meleri entered with a young girl. ‘Here is Jessie,’ she said. ‘And Jessie, this is Torey.’

The child gave me a warm, friendly smile.

She was a pretty girl in a faintly old-fashioned way, although that sense may have come solely from her clothes. Instead of the leggings and colourful jumpers most girls her age wore, Jessie was dressed in a well-washed cotton dress and beige cardigan that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1970s. Her hair was straight and not quite shoulder length, a soft red, parted on the side and held out of her face with a clip. Her eyes were true green. She was small, looking younger than nine.

‘Hello,’ I said. ‘Would you like to sit down?’ I indicated the chair directly across the table from me, as it was the nearest to where she was standing.

Jessie didn’t take it. Instead, she came around the table and pulled out the chair next to mine, but she didn’t sit down. Instead, she paused, giving me a long, appraising stare.

‘I donated my hair,’ she stated. ‘That’s why it’s not very long. It was down here before.’ She indicated about halfway along her upper arm. ‘But then I cut it and now they’re going to make it into a wig for a little girl who doesn’t have any hair because she has cancer.’

‘That was very kind of you,’ I said to this unexpected onslaught of information.

‘My hair grows very fast.’

‘You did a thoughtful thing. Now, if you’d like to sit down . . . Perhaps Mrs Thomas can sit there on the sofa, if she wants, and you can sit in that chair. I’ve brought some things with me that we can do together,’ I said.

Jessie made no effort to move. ‘You have nice hair,’ she said. ‘Can I touch it?’

Before I could answer, she did. ‘It’s very nice hair.’

‘Thank you.’

‘It’s curly. Like movie star hair. Are you a movie star? Because that’s the kind of hair movie stars have.’

My hair is not movie star hair. What I had regarded as ‘body’ when I was living in Montana’s dry climate had transmuted into wild and unmanageable corkscrews in the humidity of Wales. Most days I looked like a sheep.

Jessie pulled one curl out to its full length and held it with just enough tension to be not quite appropriate. Her gaze was unwavering. ‘You could donate this hair. It’s long enough. Have you thought about it?’

‘I think it’s a little too curly.’

‘It’s kind to do, donating your hair. You should.’

‘Thank you, I’ll consider it,’ I said, beginning to feel a bit wrong-footed in this conversation.

‘I think you’re a movie star,’ Jessie said, ‘and that’s why you won’t donate your hair.’

‘Thank you for the compliment, but would you let go, please, because you’re holding it just a little bit too hard.’

Jessie continued to maintain eye contact and a slight, very faintly challenging smile crept across her lips. She had control of the situation and she knew it. She also knew that I knew it.

‘Would you sit down, please?’ I asked again.

‘You’ve a funny voice.’

‘I do, don’t I? That’s my accent. It’s American. Would you sit down, please?’

‘What’s this?’ She let go of my hair and leaned across the table to take hold of the leather case I’d brought with me. I would refer to this as my ‘box of tricks’, because in the old days it had been a literal cardboard box, containing pens, paper, puppets, playing cards and other things children find amusing. These days it was more practically housed in a satchel.

Jessie undid the buckle and looked in. Her eyes lit up. ‘Look! You’ve got Staedtler pens. And they’ve not ever been opened before! They’ve still got the sticker fastening them shut. I’m going to use them. I’m going to draw something. You have some paper in here?’

I put my hand across the open case. ‘Let’s talk just a little bit first. Let’s get to know each other.’

‘Why?’ she replied.

‘Because I think that’s helpful. Don’t you?’

‘No.’ She took one of the pens out of the packet and began to draw on her forearm.

‘Let’s not do that,’ I said, and lifted the pen out of her fingers.

Meleri, who had sat behind us on the sofa, leaned forward and said, ‘There will be plenty of other times you can draw. Torey is planning to come and see you each week.’

‘Why?’ Jessie asked.

‘We’re thinking it would be nice for you to have someone here just for you. To help you with some of the things that are troubling you,’ Meleri replied.

‘Nothing’s troubling me,’ she said. Her tone was not defiant. If anything, it was slightly apologetic, as if she felt sorry for me, having come all this way for no reason.

‘Let’s spend a couple of moments getting to know each other,’ I said. ‘Tell me what kinds of things you find interesting.’

‘These.’ She pointed to the pens.

‘Yes, you like to draw, don’t you? What other things do you enjoy?’

Jessie brought her shoulders up in an exaggerated shrug. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Let’s start with . . . ice cream. What’s your favourite kind of ice cream?’

‘I’m lactose intolerant,’ she replied.

Jessie,’ Meleri interjected. ‘No, you’re not.’

‘Yes, I am. It gives me the squirts. And you just don’t know it.’

‘Never mind,’ I asked. ‘What about TV? What’s your favourite programme?’

Jessie exhaled dramatically. ‘Can I use these pens now?’

On the table directly in front of me was the folder containing Jessie’s skylark drawings, so I opened it and took out the picture on top. ‘Mrs Thomas showed me your wonderful drawings. I love the colours you’ve used for the skylark.’

Another frustrated sigh and Jessie fell forward to put her forehead on the table. ‘Jeee-sus,’ she muttered under her breath.

‘I can also tell you’d like to start using the pens right away.’

‘Well, yes,’ Jessie said into the table top. Still keeping her forehead on the Formica, she swivelled slightly and lifted her left arm to peer back at Meleri. ‘Is she always like this?’ she asked in deadpan. We both burst out laughing, which I suspect was what Jessie intended.

Finally Jessie sat up, grabbed the drawing of the skylark and held it up in front of her face. ‘I drew this for Idris,’ she said. ‘Give me a pen and I’ll write his name on it. Then everyone will know it is for him.’

‘Who’s Idris?’ I asked.

‘My brother. He’s eighteen. He lives in Switzerland, but he’s coming next week to take me out. We’ll go to Rhyl. To the leisure centre. So let me have a pen. I’ll put his name on it. It’s really meant for him. You shouldn’t have it. That’s the problem with this place. They keep taking my drawings away and I want to keep them for my family.’

‘Jessie, none of that’s true,’ Meleri interjected.

‘It is. Look, you’ve got all my stuff in this folder. These are my pictures. I didn’t draw them for you.’

‘No, Jessie, what’s not true is your brother. You don’t have a brother. He doesn’t live in Switzerland. You’re not going to Rhyl.’

‘Yes, I do have a brother,’ she said sharply.

‘No, you do not. Please. We’ve talked about this before. Many times before. Remember our Progress Plan? The telling stories bit?’ Meleri asked.

‘I’ve got a brother. You just don’t know about him. He got killed. When I was a baby.’

‘Jessie . . .’ Meleri said, a warning note in her voice.

‘He was at a night club and he went outside to have a smoke and bad men came. They shot him in the head and put his body in a skip.’

Jessie. Please,’ Meleri warned. ‘You know the rules. You’ll be in time out.’

Jessie looked sideways at me, a smirk on her lips, and shrugged good-naturedly, as if this were all a game.

Not sure how to pick up the conversation from here, I handed her the pens.

Jessie’s eyes lit up. Snapping the packet open again, she counted aloud to ensure there were twenty. Taking out a dark green pen, she pulled the drawing of the skylark over in front of her. Turning it over to reveal the back, which was blank, she tested the pen by drawing a couple of small lines. One by one she removed each of the other colours and tried them in the same way.

‘I want to get it just right,’ she said, ‘so that Idris will be proud of me.’ Picking the paper up, she appraised the coloured marks closely, tipping the paper one way and another in the wan fluorescent light, as if they were of great importance. Then setting the paper down, she turned it back to the side with the skylark on it and held up the set of pens. She gave them a long, hard look. My sense was that she was deliberating what to do. I could almost feel her thinking, but I had no sense of what was coming next. Her actions seemed oddly disjointed to me, as if everything were being done in a context I didn’t know. The ordinary steps involved in writing or drawing on a piece of paper just weren’t there.

Picking out the dark green pen again, the one she’d chosen originally, Jessie considered it once more, then abruptly she began to scribble over the paper in stark, violent movements.

My first instinct was to stop her, because she was completely destroying the lovely skylark drawing, but I refrained and let her carry on. Back and forth, back and forth she went in broad agitated strokes. Soon she began to pant, as if she were undertaking hard physical exercise.

I looked over Jessie’s head at Meleri. She widened her eyes to indicate how bizarre Jessie’s behaviour was, but there was a cognizance to her expression that told me this wasn’t the first time she’d seen it.

For three or four minutes Jessie continued to scribble until she had covered the entire page. The skylark, the grass it had been standing in, the musical notes up the side all disappeared under dark green ink. Finally Jessie leaned back, gasping, and dropped her hands to her sides. ‘I hope you have another piece of paper,’ she said to me.

I nodded uncertainly.

‘I had to scribble on that one.’

‘I wonder if you were feeling angry because we said the story of Idris wasn’t true, so you tried to take the picture away from us?’ I said.

‘Nah,’ she replied nonchalantly. ‘I just wanted to get the devil out of me.’

‘How do you mean?’ I asked.

‘Didn’t Mrs Thomas tell you?’ Jessie said, nodding back over her shoulder to Meleri.

‘Tell me what?’

‘I’m possessed. I’m waiting for the exorcist.’

‘No, she didn’t tell me that. Because I’m quite sure Mrs Thomas doesn’t believe that. And I don’t either.’

‘It’s okay,’ Jessie said cheerfully. ‘You don’t have to believe things for them to be true.’

‘I don’t accept such things are true,’ I replied. ‘I’ve worked with many, many children over the years but not a single one of them has been possessed. Not for real. Sometimes they have done naughty things. Sometimes really bad naughty things. But that’s because they’re scared. Or they’re confused. Or they really, really need people to help them.’

‘That’s those kids, not me. Because I do have the devil in me,’ Jessie replied, ‘and it’s for real.’

‘I don’t believe that.’

She smiled sweetly. ‘You will.’

Chapter Two

When I first started teaching in the US in the early 1970s, we were still finding our way forward with childhood mental illness. Socializing autistic children with the use of cattle prods was considered extreme but still acceptable. Both domestic violence and physical child abuse were only just beginning to be recognized as inappropriate. People agreed all along that, no, it was never a good thing to discipline a child to the point of injury, but obedience was held in higher regard, and methods used to ensure children behaved well were considered a matter for the family, not the courts. Most people did not believe child sexual abuse existed, except in the most depraved of circumstances.

It’s hard now to imagine what those times were like, how the experts could have thought what they did, how we blamed parents for so many issues that we now know are present at birth, and, worse, how we did not see nor hear so many of the things children were telling us. I am saddened to think of the anguish we professionals must have caused families with our ignorance.

Nonetheless, there was also a magic that sprang from the innocence of that era. Drug intervention was largely unknown. Insurance companies were rarely involved. Problems were seldom reduced to chemical imbalances or the predetermination of genes. We relied instead on spending time with the child to understand him or her, and because we didn’t yet have answers to most of the problems we faced, the possibility for change was always present.

Capitalism, however, was never far behind each forward step we took. If something looked like it might work, in no time at all someone wrote a book about it, someone made a programme of it, someone started charging money. Pharmaceuticals increasingly became a part of this chain. Ritalin was first to appear on the scene in the 1980s; from that point, the game changed.

The relationship between psychiatry and the pharmaceutical companies quickly grew incestuous. As new drugs were developed, our diagnosis bible, the DSM, mushroomed in size. This was not because new mental illnesses were being discovered, but because differences in human behaviour were being reclassified as mental illness in order that insurance companies could cover the skyrocketing prescription prices.

When I arrived in the UK in the early eighties, I was surprised to find an entirely different approach. Indeed, not just a different approach, an entirely different mindset. There were no contracts, no IEPs (Individual Education Plans), no drugs, no insurance companies. Much of the structure I was accustomed to in American schools and therapeutic settings was missing, including a clear-cut order of referral between education, the medical community and Social Services.

In the beginning, the British system for handling children with special needs looked ragtag to me. Buildings were often old to the point of ancient and crumbling. Literally. Learning materials were frequently in short supply, meaning children shared textbooks and other necessities. Specialists such as school psychologists were few and far between. What seemed oddest of all, however, was the presence of charities. Rather than people being charged for services as I was accustomed to in the US, charities, both big and small, came in to take up the slack when the government could not afford to provide the services themselves. I discovered charities providing inner city preschool programmes,

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